Strong start goes for naught for Spartans
GRUNDY CENTER The Spartans attitude and approach have changed dramatically from the start of the season.
Now Grundy Center baseball coach Jake Grafenberg wants to see that passion and fire on a more consistent basis.
That mentality showed up early and late Tuesday, but largely disappeared in the middle of a 6-3 loss to Dike-New Hartford in non-conference play at George E. Wilhelm Sports Complex.
“Our attitude completely changed,” Grafenberg said of his squad after a promising start.
“We didn’t have the attitude that we needed to in this game and that affected us in the long run. We didn’t hustle, we didn’t play our game that we know how to and it hurt us.”
The Spartans (6-14) used some great defensive play early to keep the Wolverines (14-10) off the board. In the second inning, Bryce Moats rifled a throw from left field to retire Joe Durnin at the plate. Durnin tried to score from second on Gabe Eiklenborg’s single, but was tagged out by Austin Burroughs. The Spartan catcher threw out Eiklenborg on the next play as he tried to steal third.
Elliott Eggleston drove in Burroughs with an RBI single to give Grundy Center a 1-0 edge in the bottom of the second, though Tom Koop’s double to right field plated Connor Neuroth to knot the game in the top of the third. The Spartans avoided giving up another run earlier in the frame as Ben Cuvelier was tagged out by Burroughs in a rundown, though the Spartan bats fell silent for their next three at-bats.
Eiklenborg played a part in the Wolverines’ next two runs, opening the fifth with a triple and scoring on Cuvelier’s groundout to put the visitors in front. In the sixth he plated Carson Parker with a sac fly to center field to extend the lead to 3-1.
After a brief conference between Grafenberg and his squad, Grundy Center picked up its intensity again.
The Spartan bats showed some spark in the sixth with back-to-back singles from Ryon Appel and Jordan Clapp.
Burroughs’ sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third with two outs, though Jake Sonnenberg induced a pop out to escape the jam.
Eggleston replaced Grant Weldon in the seventh after the first two batters reached by an error and hit by pitch, though the Wolverine bats didn’t relent. Byron Fitch brought in a run with a sac fly, before RBI singles from Trevor Johnson and Eiklenborg widened the margin to 6-1.
Eggleston got out of the inning with the bases loaded before leading off with a double to open the seventh. Pinch hitter Jared Clapp drew a walk and Moats smacked a two-run double into right field and advanced to third on an error. Sonnenberg shut down the final two batters with a foul out and pop up to end the Spartan rally.
Though the late surge came up short, the late push represented the strides the Spartans have made since May as they’ve regrouped from a 1-10 start.
“We’re working a lot better as a team now than we were in the beginning of the year,” Grafenberg said.
“In the first half of the season we weren’t getting along and had some problems. Now in the second half I see guys hanging out with (teammates) they wouldn’t normally hang out with even off the field. Their attitude has changed for the better, which has helped us play better as a team because we pick our guys up.”
Sonnenberg went the distance for the visitors giving up three runs on seven hits, two walks and a pair of strikeouts. Eiklenborg finished 2-for-3 with a double, a triple, a run scored and an RBI to lead the Wolverines.
Weldon surrendered five runs (three earned) on seven hits in the loss. He issued one walk and hit two batters in six innings. Eggleston threw the final frame allowing one run on a pair of hits and a free pass. Eggleston led the Spartans at the dish, with a 3-for-3 outing including a double and an RBI, while Moats drove in a pair.
After battling some injury and ineligibility issues earlier in the year, the only thing limiting Grundy Center is its mentality on the field.
“Their attitude is the big thing and that’s what we’re trying to teach them,” Grafenberg said.
“The attitude on the field has to be the same as the attitude off the field or in life.”
The Spartans host Hudson Friday and Aplington-Parkersburg Tuesday.
The Spartans entered Tuesday having won 5 of its last 8 games after starting the season 1-10 with a nine-game skidBoth teams came in with four players batting above .300. Bryce Moats, who recently had a soft cast removed from his left arm, leads Grundy Center at .389, while Trevor Johnson paces Dike-New Hartford at .426.